The World Is Unfair to Today's CEO

Wahn Yoon and Penelope Fridman, Cofounders, L'Institut Ideé
Marketing News Weekly
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Key Takeaways

​What? The job of today’s CEO is impossible, according to L'Institut.

Sow what? Many CEOs operate with outdated leadership philosophies and have disconnected from modern consumers.

Now what? CEOs and leaders must recognize the business advantages of creativity and collective thinking to generate the best ideas.

March 10, 2017

​How could conditions be unfair to today’s corporate CEO’s, who sit at the apex of our society, wield astonishing decision-making power and make the kind of income that the average citizen would find nearly unimaginable?

The job of today’s CEO is impossible. Here are five reasons why:

1. Leadership is not what you were taught.

According to The Guardian, the average age of today’s CEO is about 54. That means the average CEO was born in approximately 1961.

Our experience with different leadership styles and models begins in early childhood, meaning most current CEOs had  their formative experiences with leadership in the 1970s and early 1980s, long before the internet, globalization, even the fall of the Iron Curtain. Today’s CEOs entered the workforce and shaped their values while Ronald Reagan was in office.

Since then, the command and control method of leadership has been called into question repeatedly. New models of education such as Multiple Intelligence Theory (Howard Gardner) have taken a foothold in school systems. Daniel Goleman and his generation of authors have touted Emotional Intelligence as the key to effective leadership, with impressive research to back it up. In fact, the definition, role and expectations of leadership have undergone a significant shift in the 21st century. But the vast majority of leaders solidified their values and behaviours as leaders long before any of these ideas came about. 

2. Today’s consumers and employees are aliens.

When a professional is on a clear trajectory to become a CEO, at a certain point, he/she starts to lose touch with the real world. Teams of secretaries, analysts and assistants act as buffers between the leader and the world at large. Senior executives find themselves interacting primarily with people in similar positions, both socially and professionally. Therefore, many CEOs have already detached from real life, existing in a cultural bubble.

Meanwhile, new generations of consumers and employees have emerged that are made of an entirely different DNA. They have a natural affinity for technology that is light years beyond those who grew up in the 20th century. Their access to information, ideas, options, ways of being and ideologies is spectacular. And their expectation of personal control over their choices is markedly different from any previous generation.

Their sense of expectation warped and evolved with generations of children watching billionaires born at the age of 25, followed by entire institutions going up in smoke after 9/11 and the global financial crisis. Their distrust of institutions and intense desire to connect with peers (people they can trust far more than their parents or some faceless corporation) became pronounced. And as a result, their approach to work and interaction with brands is fundamentally different from previous generations.

Very few CEOs truly remained in tune with these changes. And, perhaps unconsciously, continue to apply 1980s leadership principles to consumers and employees who are not only living in, but actively shaping, the 2010s. 

3. Creativity is an attitude, not a process.

Leaders who were raised during an era where creativity was not encouraged for business managers, may have outdated or seriously misinformed ideas assumptions about creativity. The companies where creativity abounds, such as Tesla, are few and far between.

Creativity begins with a fundamental attitude, one that values experimentation over a blind obedience to outcomes, allows for mistakes and crazy ideas, encourages the exercise of imagination and allows people of different backgrounds to come together.

Some companies have started “offices of innovation” and tried to install an “innovation process” within their organizations, rarely with much success. Creativity requires redefinition and fundamental re-wiring. It is a necessary skill in today’s economy, and we firmly believe that this must be instilled in corporate cultures and developed in all employees. 

4. Great ideas come from connected intelligence, not from silos.

Great Ideas rarely come from segregated organizations, where people’s minds are limited by job descriptions and trapped within the routinized thought patterns of their particular functional area.

Great ideas are far more likely to occur under conditions that are conducive to a particular phenomenon called connected intelligence. Connected intelligence is what happens when a diverse and intelligent group of people are released from their silos and allowed to interact in a highly focused but non-linear manner toward a common creative purpose to the point where they connect as one mind that is receiving great ideas as a radio receives a radio station. 

Only with connected intelligence at work does the ultimate epiphany occur to a leader: That we are no longer living in the age of leadership. We are living in the age of ideaship.

5. Leadership in the Age of Ideaship 

The new leader is one who creates the conditions for great ideas to emerge from anyone and anywhere and has the courage to implement them. A leader has the vision and passion to inspire and engage all stakeholders. A leader is committed to doing whatever it takes to promote ideaship relentlessly, enthusiastically and authentically within an organization.

Are you ready for the challenge?

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Author Bio:

Wahn Yoon and Penelope Fridman, Cofounders, L'Institut Ideé
Yoon is owner of L'Institut and Fridman is founder and princial. With offices in Toronto and Montreal, L’Institut’s experienced innovators and strategists share a common vision: to help leaders and organizations achieve new insights and strategic breakthroughs that lead to previously unattainable levels of success. Using proprietary new tools and approaches, L’Institut redefines the very idea of strategy and how to arrive at it – creating alignment, (re)ignition and transformation that reshapes organizations, institutions and systems. For more information, please visit <a href="" target=_blank></a>.
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